Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Masking Essentials II
A number of key concepts and strategies make selection and masking more efficient and precise
The ability to work in specific areas of an image with unparalleled precision and repeatable results, along with the ability to combine multiple exposures seamlessly and flexibly, are two key advances that are propelling the current (R)evolution in photographic practice.
A word of caution before I delve into them. Refining selections and masks takes time, particularly when you're refining them by hand—even with all of these helpful techniques. There's nothing more precious than your time. So, make sure the task is worth your commitment. An initial investment of time to determine the most efficient and precise route to accomplish a task, before you begin, will be repaid with countless dividends.
Start rough, refine later. Begin with a rough selection to make sure the adjustment you intend to make to an image will work to your satisfaction before you refine the accompanying mask. A great deal of time may be spent making a perfect mask for an imperfect adjustment that ultimately never gets used. In some cases, it's not clear whether an image will succeed, and yet masks may be perfected before any assurances of success are found. Postpone this march toward perfection until you're sure the larger picture warrants the arduous journey.
While you can if you want to, you don't have to do the job entirely by hand. There are many selection strategies that can do a great deal of the selection/masking process for you. (See “(R)evolution” in the last four issues of Digital Photo Pro.) Use them. They can provide tremendous foundations for you. Even with them at your disposal, it's a rare moment when a mask doesn't need manual refinement—sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. When you have to make a mask by hand, styluses, such as those made by Wacom, are great aids in making selections; their pressure sensitivity is particularly useful for changing brush characteristics, such as size, in mid-stroke.
Knowing how to navigate the ins and outs of the Photoshop interface and becoming familiar with its basic tool mechanics is essential. Add to this knowledge a set of selection/masking concepts and strategies that will help you make better masks more quickly. Then, the selection/masking challenges that will elude you will be few indeed.